13 March 2008 Edition
Ferris and Morgan make the case for retraining initiatives
Economy leaking jobs as Ahern blames the US downturn
JOBLESS figures continue to grow this week in the 26 Counties as live register figures for February revealed the highest monthly increase on record. The seasonally-adjusted figure rose by 8,500, leaving total unemployment 30,000 people higher than 12 months ago.
189,485 people were unemployed, according to the live register, though successive governments prefer to quote the lower Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) figure, which puts unemployment at 102,500. The latest QNHS figures were released just last week and even they show an increase of over 10,000 on the 12 months to the end of November 2007.
However, the disturbing jobless data was compounded by the publication this week of the Monthly Index of Employment in Construction. This measure generated by the Central Statistics Office showed a 10 per cent fall in construction industry employment for January 2008 compared to January 2007.
Sinn Féin TDs Arthur Morgan and Martin Ferris both addressed the implications of the increased rising unemployment data. Morgan said that the Government has been denying that there is a slow-down in the construction sector but asserted that now with “incontrovertible evidence” they must consider “a real investment in up-skilling and retraining courses”.
The ESRI highlighted nearly three years ago a significant low-skilled group of nearly 400,000 workers whom they had predicted would be the first casualties of any economic downturn. These new figures suggest the ESRI forecast is happening now.
North Kerry TD Martin Ferris highlighted the growing jobless increases in Listowel and Tralee where unemployment is up more than a 1,000 people compared to a year ago.
Ferris said that “government had not done enough to bolster indigenous enterprise in the last decade” and had “squandered the unprecedented wealth created” which could have been used to address the pressing infrastructural deficits, citing examples like the poor broadband network in the south-west.
Like Arthur Morgan, Ferris called for “a targeted and funded strategy to upskill workers vulnerable to future job losses”.
Perhaps the most controversial reaction to the economic downturn came from Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern. He overlooked the poor growth performance of indigenous business, the massive infrastructural deficits in transport and telecommunications driving up company costs, and the failure to adequately train workers for the ongoing transition to a knowledge and research-based economy, as manufacturing, some industrial and many agricultural jobs are displaced to low-wage, high-volume output operations in laxly regulated Eastern European, Asian and north African economies.
Ahern’s explanation this week, speaking in Dublin, was that – with unemployment now at 5.2 per cent of the workforce, the highest level in eight years – it is being driven by the sharp economic downturn in the USA and the sub-prime mortgage crisis.
“It’s going to be a hard year,” said Ahern, who was suspiciously light on firm proposals for the growing malaise, only to comment that he is “watching the international situation closely”.
It seems that, for now, the pressing need to retrain the newly unemployed, while investing more daringly in new business or funding expansion in existing ones, will not be a priority. Nor will the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government be intervening on infrastructure issues like broadband and public transport or social housing. These are all elements that could contribute to economic growth, even though Ahern said this week: “Every 10,000 houses less that are built knocks one per cent off growth.
“We are not going to see a quick ‘bounce back’ in the short term”, said Ahern, who seems content with taking no new initiatives as unemployment grows month by month.